Councillors’ concerns over Huntingdon’s empty shops

Cllr Patrick Kadewere - concern over empty shops in Huntingdon

Cllr Patrick Kadewere - concern over empty shops in Huntingdon - Credit: Archant

Empty shops in Huntingdon should be brought back to life before they are lost forever, the town’s two Labour district councillors have said.

Councillor Patrick Kadewere and Councillor Leedo George want Huntingdonshire District Council to draw up a strategy to make the High Street a more vibrant place to shop.

They say they are becoming “increasingly concerned” over the town centre and want to see the opening of pop up shops - where small businesses take over empty buildings - to keep them open in the meantime.

But Conservative deputy council leader, Councillor Ryan Fuller, said Huntingdon was thriving, attracting chain stores and independent businesses and footfall was rising.

The two Labour councillors said: “The empty shops in St Benedict’s Court on the way to Huntingdon High Street are one of the first places visitors see when they come to the town and for many it must be a disappointment.

“We have so many great places, the Cromwell Museum, the market square and many excellent shops, but we need a bigger variety of shops and we need fewer units left empty for months.”

They said a lack of shops was one of the biggest complaints they received and that recently-opened outlets like Next, TK Maxx and M&S Foodhall were not enough when the town had lost Waitrose, Starbucks, the Brampton Pie Company and Urban Country.

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Cllr Kadewere said: “I think I am going to sit down properly with one of the council officers or the managing director and discuss the whole project and what should be done.

“I’m worried that shops are empty for years and other shops, when they come in, don’t stay at all, they come and go.”

Cllr Kadewere and Cllr George said parking charges, high rents, high business rates and competition from the internet and out of town shopping could all be looked at.

Sue Wing, manager of Huntingdon BID, said she would be happy to discuss the issue with the councillors, saying: “Anything which makes Huntingdon more vibrant will help.”

But Mrs Wing said the town was doing well and that most shops reopened quickly after a business moved out.

She welcomed the idea of pop-up shops but said such a scheme could be more difficult to organise than it would appear.

Councillor Fuller, whose executive responsibilities include economic development, said: “Huntingdon is a thriving market town, attracting large chain stores as well as smaller, independent businesses. The council works very closely with Huntingdon BID, supporting all of their activities to promote Huntingdon. It is a testament to the vibrancy of the town that all of the new floorspace in the newly redeveloped Chequers Court is under offer.

“In September last year, the council moved Huntingdon market along the High Street meaning the number of pitches available has increased from 12 to 38. This move has significantly improved the market, with a larger mix and variety of stalls and has helped revitalise the town, providing a real buzz on market days.

“Footfall figures in Huntingdon for the last 12 months are significantly higher than the previous two years, particularly since September when the new stores in Chequers Court started to open, and this increase is bucking the national trend of decline.

“The council’s multi-storey car park provides suitable, convenient parking within the town, and use of the council’s car parks in Huntingdon has increased.”